Images is a surreal waking dream that blends fiction with reality.
Images is a psychological horror thriller that tells a weird tale on a very visceral level. While the story plays out in the mind of the main character, she not only gets confused what is real or not, but also the audience loses sight of reality and fiction that blend together in a dreamlike atmosphere. With beautiful surreal shots this film is highly alienating and plays tricks on the mind, with shocking scenes that are unnerving whether they are real or not.
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When Cathryn gets a strange phone call from an unknown woman who tells her that her husband Hugh is cheating on her, she first ignores it, but is more upset by it than she admits. So she asks Hugh to spend some time at their house in the country to finish her book. But once there, she encounters not only her doppelgänger, but also her past lovers with whom she cheated on Hugh. One of them, Rene is dead and the other Marcel lives in the same village with his daughter Susannah. Fiction, reality and fantasy blend together in a nightmarish battle against herself, her past and her future.
Why you should watch it
Images honors its title by offering beautiful haunting images of the landscape, Cathryn’s surreal hallucinations and the conjured up ghosts of the past. It has a very gothic feel that lets her descend into madness, unable to distinguish between reality and fiction. It’s a dangerous path Cathryn is on, acting upon convictions what is real or not, while the audience isn’t sure if a particular scene is in fact fiction or reality, therefore not knowing if her acts are psychically or mentally murderous.
While everything is filmed from her perspective, or her doppelgänger’s perspective, reality and fiction blend perfectly creating surreal and disturbing scenes, when in fact it’s all in her head. The more she herself discovers that it’s all in her head, trying to get rid of the past, she acts upon it, which is cause for some great horror scenes that perfectly blend her imagination with the physical horror.
Especially when we switch from her own perspective to that of her doppelgänger which at the end is even more surreal, feels like a mind bending illusion from where there’s no escape and reality ever seems too far away. Just as far as when she stands at the edge of the cliff looking down at her house and herself, while she watches from down below the figure standing on the cliff. It’s an illusion with no end and no beginning and the ending makes it all too clear that she is trapped inside it.
Although it feels like is she’s unstable because she’s pregnant, her hallucinations go deeper than that. It’s about reckoning with the past, leaving it behind, killing it to start fresh. That process is shown in a surreal way, playing out in her mind, mostly, because the film does have a big surprise at the end, for both the audience and Cathryn.
The story she is writing as a children’s author, ‘In Search of Unicorns’ is a beautiful fantasy narrative that is read to us by a voice over and adds to the surreal vibe of the film, even more creating an escape into a fantasy world with fantasy creatures. But the best part is that it’s a real book written by Susannah York, the actress who plays Cathryn. This way the doppelgänger effect is even more enhanced and even steps outside the borders of film fiction into our very own reality. Add to that Susannah, who’s Cathryn’s younger image and has the same name as the actress Susannah York and the illusion is complete.
The storytelling of both ‘In Search of Unicorns’ and Images creates escapism and blurs the lines between stories we make up in our own minds, and the story of our life that unfolds before our eyes, but aren’t always seen that clearly, as how our mind can bend and conjure up things which seem sometimes more real.
The dreamlike atmosphere, shaped with beautiful shots and cinematography that are haunting and unnerving, fades away what’s real and being alone surrounded by nature where most fantasy stories take place, adds to the imagination. The music, also conjures up an eerie vibe, a foreboding feeling that something, although she’s only fighting herself, is not right and that it can’t end well. While the chimes feel like they are taking her back to Umbany, the place to escape to just like the house in the country is a place where she escapes to.
My favorite part
Cathryn reminiscences about her past lovers, one dead, one still very much alive, both not real loving relationships, but are about abuse and passion and rather unhealthy. Now she is aware of that and doesn’t want that anymore, nor does she want to be reminded of it and loves Hugh and wants to be with him, even more so now that she is pregnant. So she gets rid of them in very brutal ways and steps over it just as easily (quite literally) which is a very disturbing, yet a very absurdly comical scene, making it all the more surreal. Even more so because we don’t know yet if she actually killed someone or not, and maybe she isn’t sure either, when Susannah wants to come into the house. That particular scene does make you doubt Cathryn’s sanity. But wait for the ending.
Gore factor: ★★☆☆☆
Thrill factor: ★★★☆☆
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Gruesome factor: ★★☆☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
Images is directed and written by Robert Altman. It stars Susannah York (Cathryn), René Auberjonois (Hugh), Marcel Bozzuffi (Rene), Hugh Millais (Marcel), Cathryn Harrison (Susannah) and John Morley (Old Man).
Duration: 101 minutes. Music: John Williams, Stomu Yamashta. Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond. Edited by: Graeme Clifford. Produced by: Tommy Thompson. Production company: Lions Gate Films. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures.